Why is there a masonry wall along the trail in Middlebury?
This story is about a decision made in 1888 that influenced the design of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail over 120 years later. Edson and Mary Foster owned a farm immediately south of what is currently Sunrise Drive in Middlebury. In 1888 the Fosters granted a warranty deed to the Canada and St. Louis Railway Company for a 66 foot wide and 1300 foot long strip of land across their farm. The Fosters placed several conditions in the deed including the following: “If the said Railway Company its successors or assigns shall fail to construct and operate a Railway from Sturgis Michigan to Goshen Indiana within two years of the date thereof on the right of way herein granted or if such Railway is completed and put in operation it shall cease to used, then in either event this grant shall cease to be operative and the right of way herein granted shall terminate and shall revert to the grantor, his heirs and assigns.”
This condition meant that Friends did not become owners this section of the railroad corridor when they purchased the remainder of the corridor from Penn Central in 1993. Instead when railroad operations ceased in 1975 the Foster parcel was divided with the east half of the corridor reverting to ten adjacent landowners and the west half becoming the property of one landowner. Friends were anxious about how to build a contiguous trail through Middlebury.
Friends were delighted in 2006 when Mary Heign sold them the 33 foot wide strip she owned on the west side. Thirty three feet ought to be sufficient width to build a 10 foot wide trail. However, the railroad bed cut through a hill. At that point the west side of Friends’ 33 foot strip was largely occupied by a steep slope populated with large trees. During trail construction in 2013 the trees were removed and the top of the hill was removed. The masonry wall was installed to hold back the remainder of the hill making space for the trail.
The Foster deed is available as a pdf file.